More importantly, Cash placed himself in the middle of the fervent social upheavals gripping the nation at the time–the civil rights movement was rising, the Vietnam War was escalating, the anti-nuclear weapons campaign was galvanizing and the free speech and women's movement starting to bloom. One year removed from his monumental hit Ring of Fire, Cash was facing censorship and an angry backlash from radio stations, DJs, and fans, for speaking out on behalf of Native people. Cash decided to fight back.
A Heartbeat and a Guitar tells of the collaboration of two distinct yet connected musicians–iconoclast Johnny Cash and little known folk artist Peter LaFarge–and the album they created, Bitter Tears: Ballads of the American Indian. It also tells of the unique personal, political and cultural struggles that informed this album–especially the fight for Native people's rights–one that has influenced scores of musicians and activists, from Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan to American Indian Movement co-founder Dennis Banks and Native activist-artist John Trudell.
Weaving multiple narrative threads and bringing in the stories of the long forgotten Native war hero Ira Hayes (immortalized in the Iwo Jima flag-raising photo), legendary musicians and producers, courageous Native activists, polarizing political leaders and outspoken citizen-artists, D'Ambrosio's A Heartbeat and a Guitar tells a sweeping story of an untold moment in Cash's career. In this inimitable account–which includes 34 never before seen photos by photographs by Jim Marshall and Diana Davies–A Heartbeat and a Guitar strays out of the recording studio and into the presidential campaigns, government halls, Indian reservations, picket lines, bohemian cafes, university campuses, factory lines, civil rights marches, fish-ins and anti-war protests.